Nottinghamshire aim high as County Championship season begins

On a packed weekend of sport, it’s quite likely that the resumption of cricket’s County Championship will go under the radar for most fans.

Competing against The Masters, the Grand National, the Australian Grand Prix and – oh – the small matter of Manchester City vs Liverpool, England’s cricket circuit faces a fight to even been seen.

This is just the first round of fixtures in a season that ends in late September, though, with plenty more chances for the County Championship to make its mark before then.

For Nottinghamshire County Cricket Club, it should be a season that is worth watching.

That’s because results will be crucial.

After a brief reprieve thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, Notts are taking up their place back in the County Championship’s Division Two – the second tier of English cricket.

It follows a dreadful 2019 season containing ten defeats, four draws and no wins in the red-ball format of the game.

Notts stuck with Head Coach Peter Moores and captain Steven Mullaney, however, which seemed to pay off when they prospered in the multi-stage 2021 County Championship.

They topped Group 1, which appeared to be the toughest of all groups, and then came half a point away from competing for the Bob Willis Trophy, with only Lancashire’s one-wicket win against Hampshire denying them.

It was hard to take that competition quite so seriously when promotion and relegation were not on the line, but it nonetheless proved that Notts are far better than their 2019 record suggests.

The unfortunate thing is that they must prove it all over again.

Expectations are reasonably set at promotion from Division Two; especially considering that Notts have only spent six seasons there since it was introduced in 2000.

That task begins at Sussex this week, with the hosts coming off an absolute stinker of a season in 2021.

Quite openly in a transition phase currently, Sussex have haemorrhaged experienced players in the last few years and been left to rely on blooding their youth, who are talented but probably not yet up to scratch.

Their only real beacon of hope from the 2021 season – when they finished rock bottom, with just a single win to their name – was batsman Tom Haines.

Haines was the fastest player to 1,000 runs in the entire County Championship last season, but he faces the burden of captaincy after Australian Test batsman Travis Head pulled out of this season.

Besides the 12-year age gap between captains Haines and Mullaney, the Sussex and Notts squads for the game shape up in stark contrast.

While Sussex have added ex-England paceman Steven Finn to their ranks, the rest of the squad have precious little nous at this level.

An issue, without the impressive Jack Carson, could be who delivers the spin between all-rounder Delray Rawlins or 17-year-old Archie Lenham.

Nottinghamshire, though they do have plenty of younger players, can call upon several stalwarts to help guide them.

England’s Haseeb Hameed forms a talented batting line-up alongside Ben Slater, Ben Duckett and Joe Clarke, while Mullaney is joined by sharp wicket-keeper Tom Moores and the versatile Liam Patterson-White in the middle order.

Luke Fletcher spearheads the bowling attack after claiming 66 wickets in 2021, and will share the new ball in Hove with Brett Hutton.

The question for this opening stage of the season may be the potency of the rest of the attack, with none of Stuart Broad, James Pattinson, Dane Paterson, Jake Ball or Zak Chappell available for this game.

20-year-old Joey Evison, 23-year-old Lyndon James or possible debutant Toby Pettman will be relied upon for back-up seam, while Patterson-White has possession of the sole spin spot but should be pushed hard by Calvin Harrison.

There is great promise in Peter Moores’ side, but the foundations for a promotion push will only be laid if younger performers can produce at this early stage.

With strong leadership, a carefully constructed set of older heads and this flush of young talent, Nottinghamshire have everything required to string out the necessary results over the next few months.

Their greatest red-ball title challenge will probably come from Durham, Worcestershire and Glamorgan; all of whom have significant talent but lack the depth of the green and gold.

In shorter formats, it’s much more of a lottery.

The likes of Alex Hales, Samit Patel and Matt Carter have shown plenty of skills in recent years in the T20 Blast and One Day Cup.

Seeing whether Notts’ historic strength remains in the face of new tactics is an enticing prospect.

With several Notts players also playing for the Trent Rockets in The Hundred, it will be interesting to see how whether white-ball players rise to the challenge or burn out.

So, here it begins, and for Notts fans it should be a season to remember.

Let’s just hope that isn’t the commentator’s curse…

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